Iranian political activist converted to Christianity in Sweden fails to prove real risk upon return
F. G. v. Sweden, 16 January 2014
“32. The Court reiterates that the Contracting States have the right as a matter of international law and subject to their treaty obligations, including the Convention, to control the entry, residence and expulsion of aliens. However, expulsion by a Contracting State may give rise to an issue under Article 3, and hence engage the responsibility of that State under the Convention, where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if expelled, faces a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3. In such a case, Article 3 implies an obligation not to expel the person in question to that country (Saadi v. Italy [GC], no. 37201/06, § 125, ECHR 2008).
33. The assessment of whether there are substantial grounds for believing that the applicant faces such a real risk inevitably requires the Court to assess the conditions in the receiving country against the standards of Article 3 of the Convention (Mamatkulov and Askarov v. Turkey [GC], nos. 46827/99 and 46951/99, § 67, ECHR 2005-I). These standards imply that the ill-treatment the applicant alleges he or she will face if returned must attain a minimum level of severity if it is to fall within the scope of Article 3. The assessment of this is relative, depending on all the circumstances of the case (Hilal v. the United Kingdom, no. 45276/99, § 60, ECHR 2001-II).
34. Moreover, the Court acknowledges that, owing to the special situation in which asylum seekers often find themselves, it is frequently necessary to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assessing the credibility of their statements and the documents submitted in support thereof. However, when information is presented which gives strong reasons to question the veracity of an asylum seeker’s submissions, the individual must provide a satisfactory explanation for the alleged discrepancies (see, inter alia, Collins and Akaziebie v. Sweden (dec.), no. 23944/05, 8 March 2007, and N. v. Sweden, no. 23505/09, § 53, 20 July 2010). In principle, the applicant has to adduce evidence capable of proving that there are substantial grounds for believing that, if the measure complained of were to be implemented, he would be exposed to a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. Where such evidence is adduced, it is for the Government to dispel any doubts about it (see NA. v. the United Kingdom, no. 25904/07, § 111, 17 July 2008).
35. Thus, in order to determine whether there is a risk of ill-treatment, the Court must examine the foreseeable consequences of sending the applicant to Iran, bearing in mind the general situation there and his personal circumstances (see Vilvarajah and Others v. the United Kingdom, 30 October 1991, § 108 Series A no. 215).
36. The above principles apply also in respect to Article 2 of the Convention (see, for example, Kaboulov v. Ukraine, no. 41015/04, § 99, 19 November 2009). The Court therefore finds that the applicant’s complaints under Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention are indissociable and it will therefore examine them together.
37. The Court notes that the applicant’s request for asylum was carefully examined by the domestic authorities. There are no indications that these proceedings lacked effective guarantees to protect the applicant against arbitrary refoulement or were otherwise flawed. The Court will therefore continue by examining whether the information presented before it could lead it to depart from the domestic authorities’ conclusions.
38. As regards the applicant’s political activities in Iran, the Court observes that he has claimed, inter alia, that he participated in the campaign for the opposition before and during the elections in 2009, that he worked with persons who were known to be opposed to the regime and that his work mainly entailed creating and publishing web pages. The Court finds that no information has emerged to indicate that the applicant’s political activities and engagement were anything more than peripheral. Furthermore, the Court notes that the domestic authorities considered that the applicant’s statements concerning his political activities were vague and lacking in details. The Court can see no reason to deviate from this assessment. Even at this late juncture, the applicant has failed to submit any detailed description of the webpages in question and their alleged critical content. Furthermore, and as the Government have underlined, the applicant has not submitted anything, apart from his own statements, to substantiate the existence of these web pages.
39. The Court also notes that the applicant has claimed that he was able to work with the web pages that contained the critical material until the elections in 2009. In other words, he was able to continue to publish material which was critical of the regime until the elections in 2009, even though he had been questioned in 2007 and despite the Iranian authorities being aware of his activities. The Court finds this remarkable, especially given that the applicant has stated that the material he had in his possession in 2007 did not differ from the material he had in his possession in 2009.
40. Furthermore, the Court observes that the applicant has not been summoned to appear before the Revolutionary Court since November 2009. It is also noted that the applicant has stated that his family in Iran has not been targeted because of his political activities. Lastly, it is observed that the applicant has not claimed to have continued his political activities following his arrival in Sweden.
41. As regards the applicant’s conversion, the Court observes that the applicant expressly stated, before the domestic authorities, that he did not wish to invoke his religious affiliation as a ground for asylum, since he felt that this was a private matter. The Court notes that the applicant had the opportunity to raise the question of his conversion during the oral hearing before the Migration Court but chose not to. This stance ultimately changed when the expulsion order against him became enforceable. Moreover, the applicant has claimed that he converted to Christianity only after arrival in Sweden and he has kept his faith a private matter. Against this background, and apart from the possible publication of the applicant’s image in connection with broadcasted church services, the transmission of which to the Iranian authorities is merely speculative, the Court finds that there is nothing to indicate that the Iranian authorities are aware of his conversion. Consequently, the Court considers that the applicant would not face a risk of ill‑treatment by the Iranian authorities on this ground.
42. In conclusion, the Court considers that the applicant has failed to substantiate that, if returned to Iran, he would face a real and concrete risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 2 or 3 of the Convention. Consequently, his expulsion to Iran would not involve a violation of Article 2 or 3.”